To the Alaska Museum Community,
The start of 2020 has seen enormous challenges for museums because of an ongoing worldwide pandemic. And, in recent weeks we have witnessed our country’s struggles with racism. We know these are extremely difficult times. The uncertainty of museums depends on all of us shifting our mindset and leaning into uncomfortable conversations. As museums across the state begin to reopen, we have an opportunity and responsibility to be brave and stand in solidarity.
Alaska is no different – racism towards the Alaska Native Peoples is alive. The majority of the museums throughout the state steward many Indigenous peoples’ objects and stories. We must recognize and acknowledge the land these museums sit on. Museums are spaces for gathering, learning, and connection. We ask you to join us in collectively stepping up and leading within our institutions.
In 2017, the Museums Alaska Board of Directors and staff have prioritized diversity, equity, inclusive, and accessibility work. It is part of our core values and purpose. Museums Alaska has been fortunate to seek out keynote speakers who shape the roles museums can play in fostering racial justice. In 2017, Sean Kelley from Eastern State Penitentiary spoke about going beyond neutrality in museums; In 2019, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko addressed decolonization in museums calling out systemic racism perpetuated by oppression in our institutions. We know there is still more to do, and we are committed to supporting museums across Alaska in this work.
Museums provide safe and brave platforms to hold space for difficult community conversations. It is a time for museums to look outward and be community-led and to pause and connect to the rich history of Alaska and tell those untold stories. Our mission is to strengthen Alaska’s museums which empowers us to stand in solidarity with each of us and enables us be truth-tellers in our organizations.
We want to hear from you. What are you doing to shift the conversation with your Board of Directors, with your staff, with your strategic partners, members, patrons, funders, and sister museums? How can we effectively share best practices and examples of museums creating unity, equity, and social justice? Below is a list of resources compiled from the 2019 Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion conference held in Kodiak. This list is not comprehensive, and if you have additional resources you would like to see added, please forward to email@example.com.
We support you during these difficult and challenging times and commend you for your resilience and commitment to the preservation of culture, history, art, and science. Please stay safe, healthy, and in good spirits.
Della Hall Monica Garcia-Itchoak
Executive Director Board President
Museums Alaska Museums Alaska
Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, & Inclusion Resources
For Immediate Release
P.O. Box 756960, Fairbanks, AK 99775-6960
Phone (907) 474-5484
Home page: https://museumsalaska.org
DATE: Friday, June 5, 2020
CONTACT: Della Hall, Executive Director
Alaska Museum Week, a statewide celebration of Alaska museums and cultural centers will take place next week, from June 7 through June 13. Coordinated by Museums Alaska, the event is designed to raise awareness of collecting institutions as stewards of culture and history, centers of education, community anchors, economic engines, and employers. According to Della Hall, the executive director of Museums Alaska, all museums in the state are encouraged to participate.
“We are inviting museums to participate in a daily theme, to help show the many ways they serve our state. Monday we kick off the week with activities for kids, then move through a series of other themes like connecting from home, technology, and life in Alaska.”
Not ready to visit a museum or perhaps the museum in your community remains closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic? Hall notes that curators, educators, and exhibit designers have been very busy creating novel opportunities for engagement. You can visit many museums from a smartphone.
“There are more than 100 museums and cultural centers in Alaska, and many remain closed as they plan efforts to reopen safely. But that has not stopped this very creative community. Museums have met the moment by developing virtual programming. There are films, tours, exhibits, gatherings, arts activities, and collections all available online.”
You can listen to an oral history of the Great Alaska Earthquake at the Alaska Jewish Museum. You can browse airplane photo at the Alaska Aviation Museum, enjoy student artwork at the Valdez Museum, or explore historic photos of Sutton at Alpine Historical Park. You can attend a live daily presentation from Seward’s Sea Life Center or write poetry with help from the Juneau Douglas City Museum. Wonder what’s showing this summer? Take virtual tours of galleries in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kodiak, Sitka, and Whittier. To learn about the many online offerings the Alaska State Museum and Museums Alaska created a directory called Museums from Home. It is available at https://museumsalaska.org/Museum-From-Home. Also look for museum week hashtags on social media—#AKmuseums, #AKmuseumweek, #AKmuseumsmatter.
“In many ways, these digital opportunities are expanding the reach of Alaska’s museums,” said Hall. “They are dissolving barriers and inviting people across the world to learn about our state and its remarkable people. They are building connections at a time of disconnection.”
Museums Alaska is a statewide professional organization supporting Alaska’s collecting institutions and their staff members and volunteers. The non-profit organization supports the improvement of museum services and promotes public awareness of the value of the state’s museums and cultural centers. A nine-member volunteer board governs Museums Alaska with funding from memberships, grants, gifts, contracts, and sales.
The following article was written by Emily Pastore, the Archives and Collections Manager at Sealaska Heritage Institute.
The Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. The SHI archives are a key part of that mission, and they have a duty to both preserve and provide access to the materials in the collections. This is a delicate balance to find, the best way to preserve materials is often to safely pack them out of the light and away from interested hands, but if we never share the materials in our collections, is there really a point to keeping them? The Tlingit term Wooch Yáx̱ means spiritual and social balance and is one of the core Tlingit values; SHI seeks to maintain balance in all ways, including in the archives.
The SHI archives began small, but over the years the collections have grown and are valuable resources to the Alaska Native, academic, and general communities, and include the most Tlingit language recordings in the world. Part of the mission and goals of SHI is to make all of our resources available worldwide. With this in mind, we began the transition to Proficio by Re:Discovery in 2017; the Wooch Yáx̱ project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services MN-00-17-0034-17.
Until recently, SHI had used PastPerfect Museum Software and Archon to maintain electronic records of the art and ethnographic object collections and the archival collections. While PastPerfect met our needs for years, with the expansion of our object collections and a need to provide public electronic access, it was time for a change. Archon, which is no longer supported software, also needed an update.
Seiki Kayamori Photograph Collection. PO 072, Item 7. William L. Paul Sr. Archives, Sealaska Heritage Institute, Juneau, AK.
Proficio has the capacity to serve as a database for objects, archives, and library materials. This provided a unique opportunity for SHI to showcase both the art and ethnographic collections and the archival collections in a single database. The database has comprehensive searching and browsing capabilities, as well as the ability to attach digital objects and related media. With one search, patrons can find both objects and archival records related to their research from the comfort - and safety - of their home.
With the onset of COVID-19, SHI closed in-person reference appointments and Proficio has become a vital way to connect with our patrons in a virtual environment. Researchers can now explore our art and ethnographic collections, which have never been publically accessible online, as well as updated archival records; there are online exhibits and highlighted objects and collections, which can easily and regularly be updated. There is still work to be done, digital photograph collections are being incorporated and many finding aids need to be expanded, but these are exciting projects we will incorporate into our now-remote internship program this summer.
With Proficio, SHI is also able to incorporate indigenous knowledge directly into the records. Tlingit, Haida, or Tsimshian words for items can be added; and authority records and lexicons can be modified to include the indigenous languages. Additionally, we invited two Tlingit elders to travel to Juneau to record footage of them discussing various objects, including identifying the appropriate Tlingit name for the objects and explaining their use in Tlingit culture. These videos are attached to the object records in Proficio and are highlighted in the current online exhibit, Wooch Yáx̱: Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Art/Ethnographic Collection Inventory and Indigenous Knowledge Project. Also included are audio clips with the pronunciation of the object name in Tlingit.
2017.018.001 Chilkat Robe from circa 1900
Proficio provides an innovative way for SHI to maintain the balance between preservation and access. Items that rarely come out of the vault due to preservation concerns, such as ancient Chilkat robes, are viewable world-wide in the online platform. This increased access is a major benefit for Alaska Native artists practicing their work anywhere in the world by providing a resource for inspiration and study. This database is the first time that SHI’s art and ethnographic collections have been accessible online, and many people may not have been aware of how to request a reference appointment to view the objects, or indeed, what objects were stored in our archives at all. An online representation of an object is not the same as viewing it in person, and SHI looks forward to reopening to in-person reference in the future, but for now Proficio allows SHI to expand reference services in a time when in-person research is impossible.
It is a delicate balance to preserve materials and make them accessible and useful, and Proficio is a new tool for SHI to use to maintain that balance. We invite you to check out the new database and explore the different collections; we would also appreciate if you completed this short, 5-minute survey about your experience. Enjoy, and contact us with any questions at SHIarchives@sealaska.com!
Emily Pastore is the Archives and Collections Manager at Sealaska Heritage Institute.
For Immediate Release
P.O. Box 756960, Fairbanks, AK 99775-6960
Phone (907) 474-5484
Home page: https://museumsalaska.org
DATE: May 13, 2020
CONTACT: Della Hall, firstname.lastname@example.org
Eight of Alaska’s collecting institutions, in seven different communities from Sitka to Fairbanks, have been awarded $72,917 in grants. The awards will support collections care projects through funds created by Rasmuson Foundation and administered by Museums Alaska.
Established in 2013, the Collections Management Fund supports projects that advance the preservation of museum collections with awards of up to $15,000. The fund provides critical support for the care of objects documenting Alaska’s cultural and natural heritage. In May, Museums Alaska selected seven projects to fund. The funded projects include conservation of indigenous watercraft, upgrading an archive database, and a pest management consultation.
For future grant opportunities, eligibility information, application deadlines, and submission directions, please visit the Museums Alaska website.
Museums Alaska is a statewide professional organization supporting Alaska’s collecting institutions and their staff members and volunteers. The non-profit organization supports museums and cultural centers in Alaska and enhances public understanding of their value. A nine-member volunteer board governs Museums Alaska with funding from memberships, grants, gifts, and sales.
COLLECTIONS MANAGEMENT FUND AWARDS SPRING 2020
Alutiiq Museum & Archaeological Repository—$11,153.66 for Integrated Pest Management Consultation
American Bald Eagle Foundation—$1,869.70 for Diorama Room Barrier Project
Pratt Museum—$11,854.95 for Condition Reporting Community Collections
Resurrection Bay Historical Society, Inc.— $8,150 for Conservation of Iditarod Racing Bib and Kuspuk
Sheldon Jackson Museum—$4,425.00 for Conservation Support Intensive
Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center, Inc.—$14,976.00 for Archives Upgrade Project
Talkeetna Historical Society—$5,487.24 for Fulfilling Collections Assessment Program
University of Alaska Museum of the North—$15,000 for Conservation Assessment of Indigenous Watercraft Collection
Six of Alaska’s collecting institutions, in five communities from Unalaska to Cordova, have been awarded $16,870 in grants. The awards will support the acquisition of artwork through a fund created by Rasmuson Foundation and administered by Museums Alaska.
The Art Acquisition Fund invites museums and culture centers to submit proposals to purchase recent works by contemporary Alaskan artists. Now in its eighteenth year, this initiative has helped institutions across Alaska enhance their collections, interpret contemporary themes, and support hundreds of visual artists. This spring, six museums received a total of $16,870 to purchase 10 pieces of artwork from 9 Alaskan artists—including works in media of oil on canvas, watercolor, beach wild rye grass, copper, fur, ink, and skin.
Museums Alaska is a statewide professional organization supporting Alaska’s collecting institutions and their staff members and volunteers. The non-profit organization supports the improvement of museum services and promotes public awareness of the value of the state’s museums and culture centers. A nine-member volunteer board governs Museums Alaska with funding from memberships, grants, gifts, and sales.
ART ACQUISITION FUND AWARDS APRIL 2020
Alutiiq Museum & Archaeological Repository
Alutiiq Hatby Candace Branson $1,800.00
Not Even a Nibbleby Cheryl Lacy $1,200.00
Nkenaghch'/Good Words to Never Forgetby Ted Kim $5,500.00
Clausen Memorial Museum
Seal Habitatby Lisa Schramek $120.00
Endangered Attractionby Don Cornelius $650.00
Ilanka Cultural Center
Backbone of Our Ancestorsby Jennifer Younger $2,200.00
“Falling Rain" Quyak Atmak (Kayak Backpack) by Christine Belgarde $1,000.00
Kodiak Historical Society
Self Portrait with Lancet Fishby Brenden Harrington $3,800.00
Museum of the Aleutians
Miniature Unangan Grass Basket on bottle form by Agnes Thompson $300.00
Miniature Unangan Grass Thimbleby Agnes Thompson $300.00
The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has honored Museums Alaska’s Executive Director Della Hall with its Advocacy Leadership Award. Hall received the award from AAM President and CEO Laura Lott at a Museum Advocacy Day event held in Washington, DC on February 24th. Hall attended the event as part of Museums Alaska’s ongoing efforts to share the importance of museums and their work with legislators at all levels of government. She was joined by more than 300 museum professionals from around the country.
This was the first year that AAM gave the Advocacy Leadership Award, and Hall was one of two museum professionals recognized for their efforts to speak up for museums. Hall was acknowledged for coordinating advocacy efforts when budgetary cuts threatened the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Sheldon Jackson Museum, and the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Her efforts helped to galvanize supporters statewide and protect the institutions.
Hall was grateful for the recognition. She said, “This was truly a statewide effort and every voice made a difference. This demonstrates how important it is to speak up on behalf of our museums, to help legislators understand the powerful educational and economic value of museums.”
Hall came to Alaska in 2013, as an intern with the Alaska State Museum Grant-in-Aid program and has experience with museums across the state. She has worked for the Pioneer Air Museum, University of Alaska Museum of the North, Tanana Valley Railroad Museum, Alaska & Polar Regions Collections & Archives at University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Western History Association. She joined the Museums Alaska Board of Directors in 2015 and stepped down to become Executive Director in 2017. She served on the Alaska State Historical Records Advisory Board and is a current board member for the Coalition of State Museum Associations.
Museums Alaska is a statewide professional organization supporting Alaska’s collecting institutions and their staff members and volunteers. The non-profit organization supports the improvement of museum services and promotes public awareness of the value of the state’s museums and cultural centers. A nine-member volunteer board governs Museums Alaska with funding from memberships, grants, gifts, and sales.
Museums Alaska is pausing all of its grant programs, including the Art Acquisition Fund and Collections Management Fund, until further notice. Current applications will be reviewed, but no new applications will be accepted. We are working with our funders to determine the best ways to support museums during the current public health crisis and future opportunities.
Please contact us if you have any questions.
Updated 3/19/2020 11:27am.
The American Alliance of Museums has calculated that museums are losing at least $33 million a day due to closures as a result of COVID-19, will be in desperate need of significant federal support and that we needed to urge the U.S. Congress to include at least $4 billion for nonprofit museums in economic relief legislation to provide emergency assistance through June. Museums Alaska has signed on to this letter urging Congress to support museums.
Take Action TODAY: Use this information to craft your own letter, or use the template shared on AAM's website. Find your legislators' contact information here.
The American Alliance of Museums has also signed on to a letter urging Congress to include museums and other nonprofits in any COVID-19 economic stimulus packages. Read the letter in full here. Find your legislators' contact information here.
Our Advocacy Task Force, in partnership with the Alaska State Museum Office of Statewide Services, conducted a quick survey of Alaska museums to gather requested information for Congressional Representative Don Young's office. The results of this survey were conveyed in this letter from Museums Alaska to Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Dan Sullivan, and Representative Don Young. Full text of the letter is also below.
March 18, 2020
Museums of all sizes are experiencing closures. To prevent or slow the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) on March 16, 2020 Governor Dunleavy ordered all museums, libraries and archives to close initially until March 31, 2020. Until the crisis is under control, longer closers could occur. Each year, more than 1.86 million visitors come to Alaska museums. The museum industry in Alaska directly supports 300 jobs and generates $280 million financial impact on the economy in Alaska. Right now 116 museums in the State of Alaska are closed. On March 17, Museums Alaska issued a quick survey to museums to determine the economic impacts of COVID-19 on the Alaska museum community. The 34 respondents indicated that there are both immediate, short-term, and long-term impacts to this pandemic. Seven respondents indicated they have immediate needs for cash to make payroll and pay rent at their facilities. The 14 respondents that calculated projected financial losses due to closures estimate that they will lose $3,392,000 this summer. These are the projected losses for only 14 of the 116 Alaska museums. Front of the house staff are being laid off or furloughed. Programs, tours and events are being cancelled. Revenue generating efforts, such as general admission, store sales, facility rentals, programmatic fees, are all stopped. In fact refunds are being processed. With the decline in oil prices, the suspension of Cruise ship visitors, and the overall fear of travel word wide, Alaska museum are facing a perfect storm of being able to sustain themselves. Additionally, as the stock market continues to falter, donors are reassessing their charitable donations. Any economic stimulus needs to include Museums.
On a positive note, museums are the most trusted source of information in America, rated higher than local papers, nonprofit researchers, the US government, or academic researchers. Museums can take advantage of this high level of public trust to provide education on COVID-19 and fight misinformation about its spread.
What our members are saying
Here are some of the written responses that we received from Alaska museum directors:
“We can only afford to pay staff through the end of the month and are unable to pay rent effective immediately.”
“With no [museum] tours, there will be very little jobs to hire for. This has a major impact on the community of Klukwan, a community of below 90, as we hire about 30 people annually. This economic disruption could affect upward of a third of the community. Annual winter programming relies on summer revenues, so next winter, we will not be able to offer cultural camps, vital to the Tlingit culture.”
“We were already facing an unrelated budget crisis, so COVID-19 has suddenly put us into a battle for survival.”
“We are a designated federal and state repository and the largest of its kind in Alaska. Our collections require ongoing care and maintenance of the facility (for example, liquid nitrogen vats) and we cannot simply close the doors and walk away. In order to preserve these state and federal resources, financial help is required.”
“Since no cruise ships, most likely there will be no income for the year (since almost all income tied to tourism).”
“We would benefit from grants and donations to cover overhead costs until the crisis ends.”
Effective Friday, May 8th, all libraries, archives, and museums may reopen to the public following health guidelines.
In order to Reopen Alaska Responsibly new guidance for libraries, museums, and archives: https://covid19.alaska.gov/reopen/
Scroll down to the link for libraries, museums, and archives to view this guidance document: https://covid19.alaska.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/05222020-Phase-III-IV-016-Attachment-O-Libraries-Museums-Archives.pdf
Alaska museum directors have received an invitation to take part in a monthly survey to gauge the economic impacts of the museum closures and tourism fallout. The survey will open at the beginning of the month and close on the 15th of the month. The data will be shared with Alaska’s Congressional delegation to track changes over time. This data will help Alaska museums with advocacy and understand how we can help one another during this time. Please contact us if you have not received the survey link and believe you should have.
The most recent survey results can be found here.
The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has released a directory of resources and recommendations for museums with regard to the growing spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the United States. View these resources here.
AAM has most recently released information regarding preparing for reopening. View this resource here.
The Alaska State Museum Office of Statewide Services maintains a directory of resources for emergency and crisis, including important updated resources for COVID-19.
The Foraker Group has created a page of resources to support Alaska's nonprofits during this time. View these resources here.
The National Center for Preservation Technology and Training has shared this resource on disinfecting cultural resources.
SBA Loans for Nonprofits
The Small Business Association is making low-interest loans available to non-profits affected by coronavirus. Learn more here.
Included in the above link is information about the following:
NEA CARES Act Funding
The National Endowment for the Arts will award funding to award recipients from the past 4 years. Learn more here.
The Alaska State Council on the Arts will receive a portion of this federal funding, and will update their website with more information when it becomes available.
IMLS CARES Act Funding
The Institute for Museum and Library Services has granted $66,000 of the CARES Act funding to Alaska, with the funding to be distributed by the Alaska State Library Administrative Agency. Further information about opportunities to access this funding are forthcoming. Interested organizations are encouraged to sign up for the akmuseums listserv (see below) for rapid updates.
Funding opportunities for museums were announced Friday, May 8th. Learn more here: https://www.imls.gov/news/15-million-imls-cares-act-grants-now-available-museum-and-library-services
NEH CARES Act Funding
The National Endowment for the Humanities announced the NEH CARES: Cultural Organizations grant program. This grant will fund at-risk humanities positions and projects. The deadline to apply is May 11. Learn more here.
Alaska Humanities Forum Grants
The Alaska Humanities Forum Emergency Relief Grant program is now accepting applications. Institutions can apply for up to $10,000. The first deadline was May 1, though applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until the funding is exhausted. Learn more about this grant program and apply here.
WESTAF CARES Relief Funding
WESTAF CARES Relief Fund for Organizations is a competitive grant program, supported by the National Endowment for the Arts through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress and signed into law in March 2020. The WESTAF CARES Relief Fund provides general operating support to eligible arts and culture organizations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more here.
ACF Rapid Response Grants
The Alaska Community Foundation is offering a Rapid Response grant, with a quick deadline of April 10th. There will be more than one opportunity to apply for this grant, so check back on their website.
State of Alaska CARES Act Funding
The State of Alaska is opening up applications for a $290 million small business and nonprofit grant program. Learn more here.
The National Council of Nonprofits has created a helpful chart to help guide you in understanding the above opportunities.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has created a useful PDF to explain eligibility and frequently asked questions.
The American Alliance of Museums has calculated that museums are losing at least $33 million a day due to closures as a result of COVID-19, will be in desperate need of significant federal support. Please urge the U.S. Congress to include museums in economic relief legislation to provide emergency assistance.
Take Action TODAY: Use the template shared on AAM's website to share your message with congress. Find your legislators' contact information here.
Use this infographic to convey the impact on Alaska's museums.
Museums Alaska will be holding a "distance networking" event every other week on Thursdays at 12:00pm. Join to check in with your colleagues (from a safe distance!) using Zoom meeting software. If there are many participants, we will assign participants into "breakout rooms". Find the event details here.
Make sure you are signed up to receive updates from Museums Alaska: http://eepurl.com/dakc55
Make sure you are signed up for the AKMuseums Listserv: http://list.state.ak.us/mailman/listinfo/akmuseums
Use #museumfromhome on social media, and check out what others are doing by searching with that hashtag!
Museum From Home
Museums Alaska partnered with the Alaska State Museum to create a list of ways people can engage with museums right now. Please share this list with your community. View it here.
The Alaska State Museum Office of Statewide Services maintains a calendar of opportunities for Alaska museums, including many new virtual or distance opportunities to support museums in response to COVID-19. The resources can be found here.
Museums Alaska is also currently piloting a series of webinars. Information and registration for those can be found here.
When a History Museum Closes by AASLH Committee on Professional Standards and Ethics
Making a Good End: How to Close a Museum, a Connecting to Collections Care resource
Museums Facing Closure: Legal and Ethical Issues, a Museums Association resource
This article was written by 2019 Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund Scholarship recipient Angela Linn. Read more from Angela on her blog here.
The 2019 Museums Alaska / Alaska Historical Society Joint Annual conference marked the 20-year anniversary of my first trip to Kodiak. Back in September of 1999, I was fortunate enough to receive funding to attend a workshop co-hosted by the Smithsonian’s Center for Museum Studies and the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological repository, entitled “MUSEUMS and NATIVE PEOPLE: Audiences, Community and Collaborations.” At that time, I was literally just transitioning from being a 27-year-old graduate student assistant working for the University of Alaska Museum part time, to being a full-time benefitted staff member – my first “real” professional job. Looking through my pages of notes and the printed agenda with articles shared during that workshop, I find it compelling that many of those topics continue to be important today and in fact, were echoed at many of the Museums Alaska sessions I attended.
Our keynote address on Thursday morning by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko entitled “Discomfort & Renewal: Decolonizing the Museum” introduced many in the room to the concept of decolonization. This is a sometimes-controversial approach to various disciplines that seeks to transform institutions created by western power structures by acknowledging centuries of abuse at worst, and systematic exclusion at best. Catlin-Legutko described her personal experiences at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine as she worked with her board to eventually arrive at an organizational process aimed at sharing authority, privileging local knowledge, and truth-telling for the local Wabenaki people. As I review my notes from that keynote and compare them to those from the 1999 workshop, similar concepts catch my eye. The Indigenous participants at the workshop expressed a desire to represent their own stories in their own words, but recognized not everyone in their communities had the same perspective of that shared history. Alaska’s communities grapple with our colonial history, manifested as often battling perspectives on the Russian occupation, the value or detriment of European and American anthropologists and collectors removing early examples of material culture, assimilative education policies including English-only boarding schools, and the generational trauma resulting from those 150+ years of mistreatment and restriction of power. Catlin-Legutko reminded us that decolonization is one of many processes and approaches we might employ to make our museums, and communities, more diverse, equitable, accessible, and inclusive. Museums and their staff operate from a position of privilege and often within a structure that (perhaps unknowingly) has supported institutional racism over the years. Participants in my 1999 workshop reminded each other that first we must avoid exclusion, and only then can we move on to inclusion. It’s a subtle but important distinction that is worth our time to consider deeply.
Ellen Carrlee’s excellent session on “Indigenous Participatory Collections Care” was the perfect follow-up session to the keynote, with her insightful and introspective examination of the traditional field of conservation and their thirteen points from AIC’s Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice. Ellen provided a number of examples from Alaska museums where conservation projects employed a collaborative approach with local and Indigenous knowledge holders to both promote a high level of collections care while also respecting traditional approaches and needs of Indigenous community members. She admitted to her own feelings of discomfort over a Chilkat robe project where her local weaver took a more aggressive approach to the care of the tassels than Ellen was prepared for. This served as an excellent example of how, as part of the decolonizing approach advocated for by many professionals, we can learn to give up some control over our collections and share authority with those whose knowledge can provide a more culturally-appropriate way to achieve our mission. The 1999 workshop attendees suggested museums come up with projects to break down barriers, and that the use of local experts for highly specialized tasks like this acknowledges that oral and practiced knowledge is as valid as that gained through academic and professional training.
As a current Interdisciplinary PhD candidate at UAF working on a museum studies project, I was particularly interested to hear from Selena Ortega-Chiolero and Bethany Buckingham-Follett in their session entitled “Spirit and Vision at IAIA: An Indigenous Approach to the Field of Museum Studies.” They were joined telephonically by Asst. Professor and Department Chair Felipe Estudillo Colón from Santa Fe as he presented the guiding principles and goals of the museum studies program at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). This unique undergraduate and online certificate program centers their philosophy on teaching a balance of practical skills needed to become a museum professional while encouraging their students’ ability to analyze various models of cultural stewardship. Faculty foster the exploration of “uncharted and expressive directions in the field of museology” while giving opportunities for hands-on learning in a wide range of museum settings. Both Selena and Bethany spoke with excitement about the online program as an opportunity to expand their knowledge in museology on their own time, while specifically being provided with examples centered in Indigenous cultural centers rather than the standard western museums often cited in traditional museological texts. The AIAI program is inspiring as we at UAF look at re-invigorating our Museum Studies courses and consider how we can create a curriculum firmly based in northern topics, including Alaska Native pedagogy.
In considering such work, I am inspired again by the attendees of the 1999 workshop who suggested concrete actions to help museum staff be more culturally-responsive:
These suggestions sound very similar to what our keynote speakers, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko and 1999 workshop attendee Sven Haakanson, Jr., promoted in their final panel together: consider who we, as museum professionals, are serving and how we can prioritize their needs. Museum professionals of the 21st century must be true to our mission, while also creating safe spaces for diverse audiences, avoid exclusion, demand accessibility, and seek out opportunities for equity. It is no small task – but I have confidence in my Alaska peers that we are fully capable of not just meeting these demands, but of leading the way.
The Alutiiq Building, home of the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository.
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